It's been some time now since Major League Baseball's trade deadline passed. With players all now being situated in their new home cities, we can look back and further analyze what the Nationals did specifically and how they could improve come next season.
Mike Rizzo and the Nationals organization surprised many when they were only involved in one trade, sending Jeimer Candelario to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for LHP DJ Herz and SS Kevin Made. Herz and Made now find themselves ranked as the 15th and 16th best ranked prospects in the Nationals system, respectively. This article isn't meant to be one that analyzes the trade in depth, but as a quick analysis, DJ Herz profiles as a left hander with good stuff but shaky command. Best case scenario is he can remain a starting pitcher in the future Nationals' rotation, but he may default into being a lefty reliever, although a strong one at that. Kevin Made on the other hand is a little more of a project, as he has already struggled mightily in the lower levels of the minor leagues. How this trade ages isn't certain, but the fact that the Nationals had arguably the most valuable bat on the market along with other pieces, but made solely this one trade, may shape how the deadline as a whole is perceived later down the line.
With that being said, the question of how the Nationals can make next year's deadline better remains.
To begin, a better offseason may be in line. The Nationals had 12 'major' signings/re-signings in the 2022-23 offseason, and only two of them have really panned out. That stems more from the fact that the signings themselves were all given to relatively weak players (minus the two), who had slim chances of being productive to the team. The worst part of it all is the fact that those same guys were signed with the intent of being productive and then hopefully flipped at the deadline, as was done with Candelario. However, that proved not to be the case with many of them.
Corey Dickerson sported a .637 OPS before ultimately being released right after the deadline. Dominic Smith was signed with the hopes that he could be a middle of the order run producer for the lineup, but has stumbled to a .677 OPS. Erasmo Ramirez was brought back on the idea that he could replicate his excellent 2022 season, but he was released in early June after pitching to an ugly 6.33 ERA and a WHIP of 1.556. Trevor Williams inked a two year deal with Washington to be a starter after pitching primarily as a bulk reliever for the Mets last year. He was alright to start off the year, but his numbers have fallen off drastically since he matched his innings pitched mark from last year.
With all those signings being pretty much failures, Mike Rizzo needs to step up his game to help put himself in a better situation come next July. I understand the Lerners may have placed a tight budget on him, but shouldn't take him out of the running for a few upcoming free agents that could be perfect candidates to be flipped at the deadline. One of the most obvious ones is Rhys Hoskins, who will be coming off of missing out on the 2023 MLB season after suffering a non-contact knee injury in spring training. Being a power hitting first baseman, Hoskins fills two areas of need in this Nationals' lineup. He hit 30 home runs as recently as 2022, and a bounce back kind of year from him could propel his value come the 2024 trade deadline. Other names that could be good pick ups for Rizzo include Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, Hunter Renfroe, Luis Severiono, Tyler Mahle, Jordan Hicks, and more. Signing players like the ones mentioned above rather than guys like Dom Smith and Corey Dickerson, give the Nationals a much better chance of being bigger sellers at next year's deadline.
Additionally, letting go of players with value and control could prove to be a smarter decision than simply holding on to them. I understand guys like Lane Thomas, Hunter Harvey, and Kyle Finnegan have been playing well and it would be great to see them be a part of the Nationals' next window of success, but their values have also never been higher, specifically Thomas. Being a corner outfielder with control makes Thomas a very valuable asset, especially considering the way he's been performing this year. While it may be an outlier kind of year where Thomas is performing way over his actual level of play, his value has never been higher, and cashing in on that kind of value could be highly beneficial to the organization. Now, if other execs weren't coming close to Rizzo's asking price on them, then it is a little more fair to hold onto them, but if you can cash in on some immense value to bring into an organization that needs depth, jumping all over that could be best for the future of the team.